Days after Record Settlement, Orange County Bishop 'At Peace'

By Ben Fox
Contra Costa Times [Orange CA]
December 5, 2004

ORANGE, Calif. - The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange told parishioners Sunday that he can finally sleep through the night now that he has ended a long and at times bitter legal battle by agreeing to the nation's largest settlement for victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

"I am at peace with the settlement," Bishop Tod D. Brown said in brief remarks after Mass at Holy Family Cathedral. "The victims will be fairly compensated and, at the same time, our diocese will be able to continue our mission of service."

Brown did not disclose details of the settlement - saying he will do so only after it is finalized, which is expected this week - but said it involves "many millions of dollars" and will be "very painful" for the diocese. Attorneys involved in the negotiations have said privately that the church and its insurers will pay $100 million to 87 victims.

The settlement exceeds the previous record of $85 million awarded to 552 victims of clergy abuse in Boston in 2003 and may serve as a model for the resolution of other outstanding lawsuits against the church in Southern California.

Brown said he was moved by those victims who embraced him after the settlement was announced late Thursday night, welcoming his personal apology for the conduct of priests and lay officials that in some cases dates back 20 years or more.

Some victims, Brown said, told him they want to return to a church that many felt previously had abandoned them to protect itself during the nationwide abuse scandal.

"We welcome all those who wish to return, welcome them back warmly into our community," he said. "Let us pray for that important goal of forgiveness and reconciliation with these victims who through no fault of their own became tragic figures in the history of our church."

The remarks drew applause from many of the several hundred people in the pews on a rainy morning. Afterward, parishioners echoed the bishop's relief.

"It's a good thing for the church to get it behind it so we can move forward," said Kevin Erwin, a 38-year-old attorney from the city of Orange. "I think that a lot of people realize that this isn't a Catholic problem. This isn't a priest problem. It's a problem of society in general."

Irene Adams, a retiree from nearby Tustin, agreed.

"I hope they can take care of it all over the country," she said. "This is something that's been covered up and I think it will be good when it's all brought out and the people who are guilty are punished."


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